A little background is in order before the story begins.I grew up in a working class neighborhood in SW Atlanta.I graduated high school in 1961. My dad worked for the post office in mid-town (it wasn't called midtown in those days) and delivered mail to offices and store fronts along Peachtree and West Peachtree adjacent tothe Tech campus.I am not sure, but I think he delivered mail to the Varsity and Juniors.
He did not graduate from high school, but somehow became a sidewalk Tech fan.I grew up thinking Bobby Dodd was a god.My first Tech game was in 1956 whenTech played Tennessee and Johnny Majors for what was likely the top game that year in the nation.My dad got South Stand tickets from one of the customers on his mail route.Who? I have no idea why someone would give up tickets to games in that era.But those were terrible seats!
I became a Tech fan immediately.I later became an usher via the Boy Scouts and attended every Tech home game for years. When I graduated high school and got a chance to play college hoops, it was not at Tech.But my loyalty was firmly planted by this time.My dad was working part time as a security person at Tech games and I got a sideline pass from a coach he befriended.I was a tall skinny kid and must have been a real misfit with all the huge football players hovering around.
The 1962 season opened with high hopes.Billy Lothridge was a pre-season Heisman candidate and the Tech defense was lead by All-American Rufus Guthrie.But, an early loss to LSU at home, and another two weeks later at Auburn (both by three points) were deflating.By the time Alabama arrived at Grant field in November, we had also suffered a tie with unranked FSU. Note: by this time it was "we" when referring to Tech teams.
But Alabama was different.Way different.First, they were ranked #1. A year earlier, at the game in Birmingham, Tech running back Chick Graning was returning to the huddle after a play when Tide LB Darwin Holt unloaded an elbow into Graning's face, breaking his nose and facial bones and knocking out several teeth.No one from Alabama expressed any remorse and Dodd was furious.Holt was never suspended or disciplined in any way Tech fans could see.There was a lot of bad blood among the Tech faithful toward Bama and Bear Bryant. Tensions were almost visible.
It was raining that Saturday afternoon in 1962. The game was sold out with 52,000 mostly Tech fans. It was not cold, but the weather was uncomfortable at best.The players on the sideline were wearing rain capes.I had my sideline pass and found my usual spot around the 30 yard line.I remember having my white and gold umbrella in one hand and game program in the other.Tech scored first and lead 7-0 until Bama recovered a fumble and scored. Bryant tried for two points, but Tech held. As the game clock was winding down, Alabama was driving deep into Tech territory. It was late, very late, in the game when Don Toner intercepted Joe Namath's pass sealing the win for Tech. The sideline ball guy pulled a ball out of his towel and tossed it to a player standing next to me.He was intent on celebrating and handed/shoved the ball my way.After all the confusion and crowding on the field ended, I still had the ball. And, I still have it today.
Granted, it is a bit weather worn after all these years.My sons kicked their football into a neighbor's fenced yard and decided I wouldn't notice if they borrowed mine.It sits on the bookshelf in my den today.It is a thing I consider a treasure.